State: Nearly 700 gouging complaints post-Sandy
Nearly 700 consumer complaints of price gouging in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy have been received so far by the state attorney general.
"We are actively investigating hundreds of complaints we've received from consumers of businesses preying on the victims of this massive storm," Schneiderman told Newsday. "We take every complaint seriously and continue to encourage consumers to alert us to any suspected price gouging."
Consumers can file a complaint by calling 800-771-7755 or filling out a form at ag.ny.gov/ hurricane-sandy-price-gouging-complaint-form.
Spokesmen for Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota did not return telephone calls this week seeking information about their response to gouging allegations.
Schneiderman announced a probe on Nov. 5 of Sandy-related increases in the cost of essential items such as batteries, fuel, food, water, generators, flashlights and transportation services. Before the Oct. 29 storm, he publicly warned retailers and others not to jack up prices.
The state's price-gouging law forbids merchants from taking advantage of consumers by selling products and services for an "unconscionably excessive price" during an "abnormal disruption of the market" such as a natural disaster, power failure, strike or war.
The law defines an "unconscionably excessive price" as a gross disparity compared with the amount charged before the market disruption occurred. Price-gouging is difficult to prove, experts said, and can require weeks, even months of investigation, to determine if a complaint should be prosecuted.
The state law covers supermarkets, gas stations, hardware stores, delis, taxi companies and other vendors, retailers and suppliers.
As part of his probe, Schneiderman has subpoenaed the online classified advertising service Craigslist for names of alleged gougers. He's targeting about 100 ads for everything from a $17 five-gallon red gasoline container for sale at $150 that may or may not have included gasoline to 12 gallons of gasoline for sale at $300.
Consumers have also complained to Schneiderman's office about the cost of electric generators, hotel rooms, food and water. He said, "My office has zero tolerance for price gouging on Long Island and the regions of our state devastated by Hurricane Sandy."